No need to be paranoid about TTSH cluster, say experts

Observers say although it is a concern, focus should be on preventing spread of the virus

The Covid-19 cluster at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) is of concern, but the focus now should be on making sure that it does not spread, said several experts.

As the pandemic rages on elsewhere, the development is a reminder that hospitals are vulnerable and infection control needs to be taken extremely seriously.

The cluster emerged at TTSH following the diagnosis on Tuesday of a nurse who works in a general ward.

All close contacts of the cases, including patients, visitors and staff who had been in the ward, will be placed on quarantine, and TTSH has stopped all visitors to the hospital while investigations are ongoing.


Professor Dale Fisher, a senior infectious diseases consultant at the National University Hospital, said: "We know Covid-19 is very unforgiving.

"Such a cluster could have occurred anywhere, and we just have to make sure that if there is a case at a hospital, it will be picked up and not allowed to spread."

Associate Professor Jeremy Lim from the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health said the development is worrying and warrants even more prudence, but there is no need to be paranoid.

He urged people not to speculate about what happened until investigation results are out.

Prof Fisher agreed, saying: "Until the investigation is undertaken, it won't be clear where the breach happened.

"But so far, all the rules have shown great outcomes and kept the hospitals transmission-free."

Although this is the first hospital cluster in Singapore, it is not the first hospital transmission.

That happened in March last year at Singapore General Hospital when a 77-year-old man, who was in the same ward as another patient who was later diagnosed with Covid-19, was infected. No cluster emerged from it.

Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang, an infectious diseases expert at the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said it is fortunate that the majority of hospital staff have been vaccinated.

Vaccination gives more than 90 per cent protection against severe illness and death. But people might still get infected and could also transmit the disease, although the risk of transmission should be lower than in someone who has not been vaccinated.

A study by Public Health England published in the British Medical Journal on Wednesday found that people who have had one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine were "38 per cent to 49 per cent less likely to pass the virus on".

Prof Fisher said that in spite of the best efforts to minimise risks, "in reality, on occasion, breaches are somewhat inevitable".


Prof Hsu added: "It is a reminder of how difficult and challenging it is to contain such a virus when we have a Covid-19 cluster in the hospital that has the most experience in Singapore in dealing with major epidemics."

TTSH is next to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, and both are part of the National Healthcare Group. TTSH was also the epicentre in the fight against severe acute respiratory syndrome during the 2003 outbreak in Singapore.

On the Covid-19 cases detected at TTSH, Prof Fisher said: "Overseas, there are countless occasions (of hospital infections).

"It is a timely reminder that hospitals are vulnerable and infection prevention and control processes need to be rigidly undertaken."

Dr Asok Kurup, who chairs the Academy of Medicine's Chapter of Infectious Disease Physicians, thinks Singapore may have "inadvertently imported some cases into the country which have fallen through the cracks and infiltrated the community".

He added: "We are probably going to see more clusters. We have to be very vigilant so that a huge wave does not follow.

"In addition, whether these are new variant strains or potentially more infectious ones remain to be seen."

This article first appeared in The Straits Times.